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Synthesis/Regeneration 17   (Fall 1998)

Monsanto vs. the First Amendment!

Center for Ethics and Toxics

In February 1998, the staff of the Center for Ethics and Toxics (CETOS) located in Gualala, CA, put the finishing touches on our new book, Against the Grain, (a detailed, first-hand account of the perils of the new genetic technologies in agriculture). In late March 1998, just as the publisher was ordering the first printing, he received a threatening letter from the General Counsel's office at Monsanto Company.

The Counsel's office claimed a short article (which included excerpted pieces of Against the Grain) in Coast Magazine was defamatory and potentially libelous against Roundup herbicide, Monsanto's major product. We had already agreed to and performed a legal vetting of our book to protect against any unintentional errors or misstatements. But our publisher, fearing a major law suit, stopped the presses and folded his tent. In April, he told Monsanto he was no longer going to publish the book-and to address all of their concerns directly to us.

We have never liked the idea that writers need to mind their p's and q's in expressing themselves in a public forum. Now we were holding the quill and were faced with our own conundrum: without a publisher we had no forum. Without publishing insurance, we are vulnerable to a lawsuit which we can ill afford to defend. But if we were to bow to Monsanto's bullying tactics, our opportunity to express our views would disappear along with our book.

Our response has been to fight back. On April 27, we wrote the CEO of Monsanto, Mr. Robert Shapiro. We told Mr. Shapiro we deplored his company's actions that put the "rights" of their product above the rights of those who questioned its potential impacts. We expressed our outrage at his censoring a book which no one at Monsanto ever read or even asked to see. At the end of our letter, we requested an apology and an explanation for Monsanto's ill-considered actions.

The good news is that we got a new publisher. Greg Bates of Common Courage Press in Monroe, Maine, committed to publish our book! It will appear in the Fall of 1998, come hell or high water.


To order Against the Grain, call Common Courage Press (Monroe, Maine) at 1-800-497-3207 or comcour@agate.net

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